I-League: Aizawl FC gets ready for football glory

Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC have 33 points from 16 games, but the former has a head-to-head advantage after a 3-2 victory in the first leg. Aizawl FC can seal the title if it wins by a two-goal margin.

Aizawl FC players pray before starting the practice on the eve of their game against Mohun Bagan.   -  Santosh Yash

One of the tiniest states that currently supplies the largest number of professional footballers in the country is gearing up for its biggest glory – the I-League title. The watershed moment in Mizoram’s rapid emergence as a football power will be realised if Aizawl FC beats Mohun Bagan in the 17th round match of the tournament, which comes up here at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium on Saturday.

Aizwal FC’s resurrection from relegation last season to become a title contender this year gives a different dimension to the contest. Aizawl FC coach Khalid Jamil hoped that the passion of the supporters and the commitment of his players will combine to surmount the might of Mohun Bagan, the traditional superpower of Indian football.

“It is a very difficult match but I am looking for a positive result,” the generally reticent Jamil made the wish ahead of the match.

“On one side is tradition while on the other there is the urge to create history. It remains to be seen which factor prevails on the day of the match,” the Aizawl chief coach said.

While both sides are tied on points – 33 from 16 matches – Mohun Bagan has the edge because of the head-to-head count. Having beaten Aizawl 3-2 at home in the first phase of the tournament, Mohun Bagan needs a draw to maintain the advantage. Aizawl needs a win to get the equation in its favour and nose ahead in the title race before the final round of action.

“One should remember that we won the last I-league title (in 2015) playing the decisive match ‘away’ (against Bengaluru FC),” said Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen, who was responsible for regaining the national crown after 13 years.

“We are still at the top of the table and we will give the best effort to keep the status intact,” Sen said. Both the sides are free of injury and suspension problems, giving the coaches the option to select the best playing eleven.

Sony Norde, the Haitian playmaker, who is at the centre of Mohun Bagan’s offensive organisation, will be the key in the visiting team’s aspirations. Sen will also rely on midfielder Katsumi Yusa, of Japan, to deliver along with Scotsman Darryl Duffy to do the conversion in the striking zone.

Brazil’s Eduardo Ferreira is the mainstay of Bagan’s defence. The Indians in the team — E. Anas, Pritam Kotal, Raju Gaekwad, Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua — are also key for Bagan to equal Dempo SC in winning the fifth NFL/I-League titles.

Aizawl also has good foreigners including the Liberian forward Alfred Jaryan, Syrian Mahmoud Amna in the midfield and Nigerian defender Kingsley Eze. Brandon Vanlalremdika, Lalram Chullova, Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta have also played a key role in the team's 10 wins so far.

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